About First HELP
First H.E.L.P. reduces mental health stigma for First Responders through education, advocating for benefits for those suffering from post-traumatic stress, acknowledging the service and sacrifice of First Responders lost to suicide, assisting officers in their search for healing, and bringing awareness to suicide and mental health issues.
Honor– Honor the fallen and their families. Honor the sacrifices made and the lives lost. This includes Camp April, our cost-free children’s camp for the children and families of First Responder suicides as well as our Annual Honor Dinner where we bring the Widows/ Widowers of First Responders Suicides together to honor their heroes and memorialize their losses.
Educate– From the Officer/ Fire Fighter/ Medic/ Communications Officer in the field to the Chain of Command, to the families at home… Educate First Responders and their families as to the stressors of the job, and the effects of PTSI/ OSI incidents and give them the tools to navigate the unseen side of public service. We teach courses from the responder level up to the supervisor level, including Family Readiness and Provider Readiness programs as well as a Recruit Readiness program.
Lead– We represent First Responders at the state and Federal levels as we fight to ensure PTSI/ OSI struggles and mental health are acknowledged, the suicides among First Responders are held to the same standards as Line of Duty deaths, and that fair and accurate accountability is given to First Responders and their families.
Prevent– In line with our Education programs, we also have our Mission Ready Retreats… 6-7 Day cost-free programs designed for peer-to-peer mentorship, education, alternative stress relief, and camaraderie. At the core of prevention is the collection of suicide data for all first responders which is published freely or continued awareness of mental health as it relates to our professionals
Before Blue H.E.L.P was formed, the original idea for the organization was to include all first responder disciplines. There was a gap in efforts to gather data, and honor those who had served their community honorably but had been denied respect because they died by suicide. Ultimately the founders decided the undertaking was just too large as we all worked full time jobs, so we chose to start our focus on law enforcement. Throughout the years we have had contact with professionals from every first responder discipline and their families asking if we would do the same for their fields. Now we can answer…yes.
Meet the First H.E.L.P. Team
Chief Operating Officer
Steven is a 20-year veteran of Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. During his time with the Sheriff’s Office Steven also spent seven years assigned as a Task Force Officer for the US Marshals Violent Fugitive Task Force based in Pensacola, FL. While serving a warrant with the task force Steven was shot numerous times, including once in the face. As a result of his actions, Steven was awarded the Congressional Badge of Bravery, United States Marshal’s Purple Heart, and the Medal of Valor from Santa Rosa County. Steven has since retired from the Okaloosa county Sheriff’s Office and is currently working as an inspector with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.
Chief Financial Officer
Karen is the creator of www.1sthelp.net and the author of Hearts Beneath the Badge and The Price They Pay as well as many articles about law enforcement suicide. Her focus is the stories of the families who have lost an officer to suicide and the officers who suffer with the feeling that they have nowhere to turn. Karen was a member of the 2018 Officer Safety and Wellness Group Meeting, the co-Chair of the Data and Research Committee of the National Consortium on Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention and is currently on the FBI task force to implement the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act. Karen is also the wife of a police officer.
Chief Learning Officer
Joe is a retired US Army Military Police First Sergeant with over 20-years of law enforcement and military experience. As the Chief Learning Officer at First H.E.L.P. he oversees Learning and Development and the organization’s Marketing efforts. He is also a Training and Development Specialist for the US Navy and an Adjunct Instructor for Team One Network. Since his retirement in 2016 he also worked as a Training Specialist with the Center for Army Profession and Ethic (CAPE) and as the Director of Training and Business Development at Team One Network. Prior to retiring from the Army Joe served as the Operations Sergeant Major for a Combined Arms Training Brigade, Senior Enlisted Advisor and Tactics Instructor for the Department of Military Science at West Point, the United States Military Academy (USMA) Equal Opportunity Program Manager, and First Sergeant for a Military Police Company. Other assignments include; Law Enforcement Operations Sergeant, Special Reaction Team Commander, and Investigator.
BLUE HELP - Director, Family Events
Shawn Thomas has been a deputy for 23 years at the King County Sheriff’s Office in Seattle, WA. She currently is an Explosive Detection K9 handler and is a team leader for their peer support team. Shawn is also the founder/national director of 1st Responder Conferences. Shawn organizes mental health and wellness conferences for first responders and their families throughout the United States, in hopes of improving the quality of life for all who dedicate themselves to protecting and serving others.
Learn more about 1stResponder Conferences at www.1stResponderConferences.org
BLUE HELP - Family Division, Advisory Committee
ShaRonda Young Calderon is the widow of Deputy Homero Calderon, an 18yr veteran with the Dallas County Sheriff Department, who died by suicide on June 29, 2018. She has a bachelor degree in criminal justice from Dallas Baptist University and currently pursuing advance studies in psychology. She and her husband started their career together in law enforcement with the Sheriff Dept in 2000. She currently works as a legal assistant for a small law firm in Dallas TX. ShaRonda has become an advocate for mental health and suicide awareness because she understands the difficulties living with and the stigma attached to it.
RED HELP - Training Director, Board Member
After serving in the United Sates Marine Corps Rod Rifredi embarked on a career as a firefighter where he achieved the rank of Captain. Rod then moved to law enforcement where he served in several positions until his retirement from the Davis Police Department in 2018 at the rank of Sergeant after a total of 34 years of public safety service. For over 25 years Rod has been involved in training and has spent over 10 years traveling across the nation teaching officer safety courses. Rod has served on several California POST committees targeted towards officer’s safety through better driving policies and training.
RED HELP - Board Member
Robyn Mikel is the widow of Firefighter Eric Mikel, a 14-year veteran with the Alameda County Fire Department who took his life on June 24th, 2019, just one month short of their 20-year wedding anniversary. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Robyn received her bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism from Cal State East Bay. Her career began in Advertising, but she ultimately found her passion in the technology industry where she spent nearly 20 years with assignments ranging from training to project management. Through the experience of losing her daughter who was stillborn at 36 weeks she really began the process of understanding her own mental health struggles and the toll it takes on the entire family. The feeling of powerlessness in helping her husband overcome depression and the job-related PTSD that ultimately led to his suicide has compelled her to focus her life toward seeking opportunities to advocate for better services and support for first responders and their families. She is currently a stay-at-home mom caring for and being the best role-model she can be for their young son, Donovan.
FIRST HELP - ADVISOR
Robert E. Winner retired from the United States Air Force in 2013 after a career in Security Forces (Military Police). In addition to multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan he also served as an Emergency Services Team Leader (SWAT) and Personal Security Detail Supervisor. Rob has been a Law Enforcement educator/trainer within the Department of Defense, the National Tactical Officers Association and the Colorado Police Corps. He continues to participate in firearms/tactical/medical training around the country to hone his skills. After retiring from the Air Force Rob has done contracting work, both stateside and abroad, doing Executive Protection/ Private Security. More recently, Rob was a Peer Support Mentor and Board Member with a PTSI/ Anxiety/ Depression non-profit focused on Veterans and First Responders. In working through his own stressors, Rob found a passion for woodworking and uses some of his creations to raise funds for a multitude of non-profit organizations that directly impact the lives of our nation’s heroes.
Steven Casstevens is the Chief of Police with the Buffalo Grove, IL Police Department. He retired in 2011 as an Assistant Chief with the Hoffman Estates, IL Police Department, where he served for nearly 30 years. He then served as Chief of Police with the Cary, IL Police Department for 2 ½ years prior to being hired in Buffalo Grove June of 2013. He began his law enforcement career in the Military Police with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division in 1976.
He has authored numerous articles for Police Chief Magazine, Command Magazine and Law and Order. His 2011 keynote speech to a basic law enforcement academy class was featured in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. He served as an adjunct instructor for Northwestern University Center for Public Safety for nearly 20 years.
Melissa Swailes is the widow of David Swailes, LAPD officer who died by suicide on Feb. 26, 2016. Since his death she has worked tirelessly to overcome her own fight with PTSD as well as advocate for comprehensive officer wellness programs. She works closely with the Los Angeles Police Department Behavioral Science Services as well as the Family Support Group to promote suicide awareness initiatives and helps organize support for surviving families of fallen officers.
Dan is currently the Managing Director, Risk Advisory Solutions for KPMG, LLP. He is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) / Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF), Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) , Member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and Leadership Detroit XLI. A senior business executive with diverse experience building and leading world-class investigations, compliance, and audit teams for large, complex organizations and partnering with a variety of stakeholders including, but not limited to government regulators, company executives and management teams, shareholders, external and internal counsel, boards of directors, audit committees, etc. Dan has substantial experience conducting sensitive and confidential investigations and compliance matters in a timely, effective, and efficient manner.
Brian is a Marine Corps Veteran and has been in law enforcement for nearly 20 years. He currently works for an agency in the Denver, CO metro area. Brian is also the owner of Mental Ammo, a law enforcement training provider. He serves as the Vice Chair for Colorado P.O.S.T. Arrest Control SME Committee. Brian is a charter member of International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association (ILEETA) where he also serves as an editor to the Officer Safety and Use of Force section of the ILEETA Journal.
Michael J. McSellers has served our country as a United States Marine Corps veteran and has served the Commonwealth of Virginia as a law enforcement officer for over fourteen years and is currently serving in the Northern Virginia area. Michael has served for over 13 years as a Field Training Officer and a member of the Honor Guard. He has also served over 3 years as a Chaplain, and has been a coordinator for the annual Rise Christian Police Conference and speaker held during National Police Week the past 3 years. Michael is also the host of a podcast titled Faith on the Force and is a speaker for Billy Graham’s National Law Enforcement Retreat.